2020 Update: common garden experiments

Since 1996, members of Team Echinacea have walked, crawled, and ~sometimes~ run next to rows of Echinacea angustifolia planted in common garden experiments. Although protocol varies depending on the experimental plot, every year team members record flowering phenology data, measuring data, and harvest the heads of the thousands of plants we have in common garden experiments.

Note that these experiments are not really gardens. “Common garden” refers to the experimental design. Most of our experimental plots are prairie restorations, a few are abandoned ag fields that are manged as grassland habitat. Some plots have multiple experiments within. The Echinacea Project currently has 10 established experimental plots:

exPts01-10. To avoid repetitiveness of reports on yearly phenology, measuring, and harvesting, this project status report will include updates on all experimental plots 1, 2, 4, 5, and 8. Reports for the others will be elsewhere: Amy Dykstra’s plot (exPt03), the hybrid plots (exPt06, exPt07, exPt09), and the West Central Area common garden (exPt10).

exPt01: Experimental plot 1 was first planted in 1996 (cleverly termed the 1996 cohort), and has been planted with nine other experiments in subsequent years, with the most recent planting being Amy Waananen’s inter-remnant crosses. It is the largest of the experimental plots, with over 10,000 planted positions; experiments in the plot include testing fitness differences between remnants (1996, 1997, 1999), quantifying effects of inbreeding (inb1inb2), and assessing quantitative genetic variation (qgen1). There are also a number of smaller experiments in it, including fitness of Hesperostipa sparteaaphid addition and exclusion, and pollen addition and exclusion. In 2020, we visited 4,340 of the original 10,622 planted and found 3,258 alive. Only 484 plants were classified as “flowering” in exPt01 this year. This is a drastic increase from the nearly 70 plants that flowered in summer 2019 – perhaps it is a testament to the benefits of controlled burning (we burned in spring 2020 but not in 2019). In summer 2020, we harvested ~815 total Echinacea heads in exPt01 (I have not finished the reconciliation process). In the fall, we added 484 staples to positions where plants were gone for three straight years, however, we ran out of staples, so 130 of these positions have “flaples” which are bent pin flags.

exPt02: Heritability of flowering time is the name of the game in exPt02. Planted in 2006, exPt02 was planted to assess heritability of flowering start date and duration in Echinacea. In summer 2020, we visited 2,010 positions of the 3,961 positions originally planted. We measured 1,638 living plants, of which 444 were flowering. In the fall, we harvested ~626 heads from exPt02. We do not have an exact number of heads harvested from exPt02 yet, as we have not had time to complete head reconciliation. Location: Hegg Lake WMA

exPt04: Experimental plot 4 was planted to gauge whether Echinacea from small remnant populations could be genetically rescued via an outcross to larger, more genetically diverse populations. Caroline Ridley and other members planted this plot in 2008. We did not measure exPt04 this year. Location: Hegg Lake WMA

exPt05: The only experimental plot planted at Staffanson Prairie Preserve (SPP), exPt05, was planted to compare progeny of maternal plants from burned and unburned sections of SPP. There were 2800 plants planted originally, but high mortality made it impractical to visit the plot row-by-row. Now, we and treat the plot like demography. We use our survey-grade GPS to find plants in exPt05 that have previously flowered and add more plants to the stake file if new plants in the plot flower. In 2020 we found 11 living plants, two of which were flowering! There was only one head to collect, since one of the flowering plants exhibited only vertical development (no head). Location: Staffanson Prairie Preserve

exPt08: Team Echinacea established quantitative genetics experiments to quantify additive genetic variance of fitness in Echinacea, with the idea that we can estimate evolutionary potential of study populations. The maternal parents of qGen2 and qGen3 are plants in the 1996, 1997, and 1999 cohorts. These plants were crossed with pollen from plants in remnants to produce seed for qGen2 and qGen3, which now inhabit exPt08. Originally, 12,813 seeds were sown in the common garden. Seeds from the same cross (shared maternal and paternal plants) were sown in meter-long segments between nails. A total of 3,253 seedlings were originally found, but only 562 plants were found alive in 2020. There were 5 flowering plants in 2020, and 5 heads. Note that there were an additional 2 heads collected from transplant plot.

Plot management: To ensure that the common garden environment is as similar as possible to the prairie environment we must actively manage it. This management includes removing foreign species and supplementing with natives. One of our main management methods is through fire. We were unable to burn plots this fall however we hope to burn p8 and p1 this spring. We also collected seed to spread after burns including Schizachyrium scoparium, Bouteloua curtipendula, along with multiple species of Solidago and quite a few Asters.

Asclepias viridiflora in p1: In 2019, plugs of an uncommon prairie milkweed, Asclepias viridiflora, were planted in Experimental plot 1. The purpose of this experiment is to assess the survival and fitness of A. viridiflora. Assessing vitality will also provide a frame of reference for species conservation across modern prairies. In 2020 a protocol was developed to identify and measure A. viridiflora. These data are waiting to be entered and analyzed.

Hesperostipa demography:  In 2009 and 2010, porcupine grass (Hesperostipa spartea, a.k.a. “stipa”) was planted in experimental plot 1. In total, 4417 seeds were planted, 1 m apart from each other and all 10 cm north of Echinacea plants. Between 2010 and 2013, each position was checked, and the plant status recorded. Since 2014, we have searched for flowering plants. The data from this summer can be found here cgdata/summer2020/stipaSearch, these data have not been processed yet.

Inb1: The INB1 experiment investigates the relationship between inbreeding level and fitness in Echinacea angustifolia. Each plant in experiment INB1 originates from one of three cross types, depending on the relatedness of the parents: between maternal half siblings; between plants from the same remnant, but not sharing a maternal or paternal parent; and between individuals from different remnants. We continued to measure fitness and flowering phenology in these plants. In 2020, of the original 557 plants in INB1, 111 were still alive. Of the plants that were alive this year, 30 (27%) were flowering. This is up from the 4% that were flowering last year. All individuals were planted in 2001.

qgen: The qGen1 (quantitative genetics) experiment in p1 was designed to quantify the heritability of traits in Echinacea angustifolia. We are especially interested in Darwinian fitness. Could fitness be heritable? During the summer of 2002 we crossed plants from the 1996 & 1997 cohorts of exPt01. We harvested heads, dissected achenes, and germinated seeds over the winter. In the Spring of 2003 we planted the resulting 4468 seedlings (this great number gave rise to this experiment’s nickname “big batch”). In 2020 we assessed survival and fitness measures of the qGen1 plants. 1,642 plants in qGen1 were alive in 2020. Of those, 17% flowered in 2020. All were planted in 2003.

Stuart and John measure Echinacea plants in exPt02 under a gloomy sky

For more information on survival in common garden experiments, see this flog post about survival in common gardens.

Start year: Various, see individual listings above. First ever planting was 1996.

Location: Various, see above

Overlaps with: Pretty much everything we do.

Data/ materials collected: Measure data for all plots. All raw measure data available in cgData repository. Processed data should eventually be available in SQL database; ask GK for status of SQL database. GPS points were shot for the exPt09 flowering plant. Find the GPS jobs containing the exPt09 corners here: Dropbox/geospatialDataBackup2020/convertedASVandCSV2020/EXPT9_20200917_DARW.asv The stake file to find exPt5 plants is here: Dropbox/geospatialDataBackup2020/stakeFiles2020/exPt05stakeFile.csv Products: Many publications and independent projects.

Survival in common gardens

Last Friday, I was dispatched by Stuart to find the number of plants/ achenes planted in each experimental plot, along with the number alive as of a recent year (2017-2019, based on the plot). Although records of some plots were a bit harder to come across that others, I was able to compile data from each plot (besides p10 – planted 2019 – data coming soon). This would not have been possible without the help of Gretel, so thanks GK! I have attached a small datasheet with the survival data.

In the history of the Echinacea Project, the team has sown 31,888 Echinacea viable achenes in experimental plots. There were many more sown that likely did not have a seed. Team members found 3634 seedlings from these seeds, not including Amy D’s experimental plot 3 and remnant seedling refinds. The team has planted 18,869 Echinacea seedlings in experimental plots, not including p10 – planted at West Central Area HS in 2019. Finally, 7090 Echinacea are currently alive in the experimental plots!

Project status update: Heritability of fitness–qGen2 & qGen3

Pollen vials from Landfill sire 403 used in qGen3 crossing 2015

Pollen vials from sire 403 used in qGen3

The goal of the qGen2 and qGen3 experiments is to compare the evolutionary potential of two remnant prairie populations of Echinacea angustifolia by estimating the additive genetic variance of fitness under two mating scenarios: crosses performed within the core sites (core x core) and crosses performed between the core site and nearby sites (core x periphery). Additionally, we will test for differentiation among families; do progeny from sires differ after accounting for maternal (dam) effects?

In June 2015 we assessed survival and measured 1-year-old plants from qGen2. During the summer and fall of 2015 we replicated the qGen2 experiment through a second crossing experiment. We sowed the resulting achenes in exPt 8 as our qGen3 cohort.

Read more about the qgen2 and qgen3 experiments.


Dam to be crossed with pollen from 2 sires

Start year qGen2: 2013

Start year qGen3: 2015

Location: exPt 1 (dams), remnants Landfill and Staffanson (sires), remnants Landfill (core) & around Landfill (peripheral) and remnants Staffanson (core) & railroad crossing sites (peripheral) (grand-dams), exPt 8 (progeny)

Overlaps with: Heritability of fitness–qGen1


Keke and q3 wrap-up

Keke hard at work counting the q3 offspring

Keke hard at work counting the q3 offspring

Keke is a senior Environmental Studies major at Lake Forest College who has been working in the lab for the past semester. For her project, she focused on the maternal plants of qGen_3. In that experiment, we crossed individuals in p1 with pollen collected from plants at Staffanson and Landfill during the summer and planted the seeds from those crosses in the fall. When dissecting the heads, we only selected achenes that we knew had been crossed properly.

This left ray achenes and achenes that may have been contaminated with other pollen, plus any achenes that we missed! Although we didn’t want to plant inviable or contaminated achenes, knowing the fecundity of the maternal plants is an important part of estimating fitness, so we wanted to have accurate achene counts for each mom. This is where Keke comes in. She removed all of the “extra” achenes and counted them, along with the rest of the maternal achenes which had been scanned in the fall.

Keke also analyzed the effect of a new pollen management procedure that we followed for q3. This procedure involved collecting pollen in multiple vials and taking care to only remove a vial from the refrigerator for crossing once. This was in an effort to reduce exposure of pollen to repeated warming and cooling cycles, which we thought might have reduced its viability in q2. Keke assessed the percent of successful crosses in q2 versus q3 and found that the percent of successful crosses increased 5% with the new procedure. Cool!

You can read more about what Keke did this winter and spring in her report, which can be found here:

Keke’s Q3 Report

Thanks Keke and best of luck in all of your future endeavors!


28 Sept – 6 Oct: a week in Minnesota

September 28 started as any ordinary fall day would – in the lab at the Chicago Botanic Garden – but if one were to pay attention they would notice slight change from usual. Our backpacks were more full, the lab tasks were taking lower priority, and both Amy and I had brought a full bag of carrots as snacks. At around noon, Stuart arrived at the Garden after an already long day of traveling, informing us that he and Gretel had just arrived and we would be leaving as soon as possible for Minnesota. After a little more time in the lab, we were off in a white pickup truck with a skybox bearing the crest of the CBG. The journey was long, but uneventful besides a stop in the Twin Cities for ice cream. We arrived in Kensington after 11pm and quickly fell asleep in our former summer residence.

The next 4 days proved to be very productive for the group. We finished measuring at Caroline’s and Lydia’s plot, finished seedling refinds, finished all the “can’t find” rechecks in both P1 and P2, and we removed all the flags from P2. We prepped the burn site by mowing the burn breaks and cutting down branches that were in the path. The weather didn’t cooperate so we weren’t able to burn last week but the forecast was hopeful so we planned to try again Monday, October 5th. Amy stayed up in Kensington with Ali and Katherine and together, the three of them finished dissecting all the heads from Q3. I stayed in Northfield for the weekend, and Stuart and Gretel went back to Illinois.

Monday came and Stuart and I headed back up to the farm with hope in our hearts that we would have a successful burn. We got all the supplies ready, including water packs, buckets, giant containers, and most importantly, drip torches. We started the fire at 3pm, worried about the high humidity and lack of sunlight, but we knew we had to try. After an hour of patchy, inconsistent, slow moving fire, we decided to put out the fire and wait for a better day. Though we weren’t able to burn p8, we were able to create a great burn break and get the team experienced with our fire fighting gear.

On Tuesday, Ali, Katherine, and Amy drove the Ranger down to Illinois, while Stuart and I took the train. It had been a long week filled with many victories and only a single defeat. Though the weather won for a day, we know that we’ll be back and ready to burn once more.

September 27: prep for field and lab work

Now that Danny and I are getting settled in at the lab, it’s time to head back to the field! Gretel, Stuart, Danny, and I will be heading out of Chicago on Monday afternoon back to Douglas County for the next week. We spent some time last Friday getting prepared for all of the remaining fieldwork, which includes things like removing flags, re-rechecking demo, and (hopefully!) burning the p8 plot, where the q3 experiment will be planted. We also began making plans for the lab in the coming year–there will be this year’s harvest to process, papers to write, students to mentor, along with improvements we hope to make on the project like a new data entry system to replace the beloved but frail Visors. We talked about who is going to do what and how we’re going to coordinate getting it all done! Rest assured, dear reader, that it will involve to-do lists and technology specially designed to maximize our productivity. Stay tuned as Team Echinacea returns to Minnesota for a busy week of fun and fieldwork!

See ya Lake Mich

See ya Lake Mich

Yes Sir, Yes Sir, Three (4!) Bags Full

Today and yesterday Katherine and I harvested most of the heads from P1 and P2! It’s an all day affair now that it’s just the two of us, but we enjoyed seeing how much progress we’ve made- many of the rows and all of the heads for Q3 are completely harvested!   Today at P2 we had a picnic lunch in the field to maximize efficiency and enjoy the beautiful and clear fall day. I also gained a deeper understanding for just how caring of a person Katherine is. As we were harvesting she carefully ensured no bugs made it into the bag declaring, “Why must I have such a respect for the sanctity of all life!” as she herded another small bug back into its home at hegg. Unfortunately as we headed home, the truck didn’t quite start! Luckily, a kind passerby helped us jump it and after at the auto body shop we got to play with Bo, the friendly and pudgy yellow lab.

We started off today by receiving a post card from Ben! It’s addressed to all of Team Echinacea, so I urge everyone to return to read it in person (and so we can see you)! To say we were overjoyed would be an understatement, and it reminded us how much we miss our buddies who have returned home, to school, and to continue work in Chicago! Unfortunately as you can see from the pictures, some members were not so fortunate as to remain humans after the summer. So much time spent studying Echinacea has caused Gina to turn into an Echinacea and from eating too many cucumbers from the Wagenius’ garden, Ben has become a cucumber! We are impressed by how much this summer influenced our friends both academically, and physically.


Katherine cuddles Bo while the car is expected!

Katherine cuddles Bo while the car is expected!

Gina misses the project so much she's turned herself into an Echinacea!

Gina misses the project so much she’s turned herself into an Echinacea!

We miss Ben, but we like him as a cucumber too

We miss Ben, but we like him as a cucumber too

Q3 update and more!

As of Tuesday, 139 out of 153 total Q3 heads have been harvested. That means there are only 14 more to go. Yay!!!

With Gretel having left for Chicago after lunch today, Ali and I are officially alone here in Kensington! While holding down the fort for a week will likely be challenging due to the large amount of fieldwork left to be done, we’re confident that we’ll be able to handle it. Our newfound ability to drive stick-shift has already proved invaluable, and we’re gaining confidence with it every day. This afternoon, we drove around to harvest at the remnants, and we finished off the harvest at Steven’s approach, NW of landfill, and Hegg. Now the truck is parked safely in our driveway, which will be its home for the next month!

Here are some photos from the week!

The beautiful birthday cake Gretel made me!

The beautiful birthday cake Gretel made me!


Ali also made me a cake!!

Ali also made me a cake!!

Being hooligans in P1

Being hooligans in P1, as usual

Sept. 4th: My last day :(

This morning we split into 2 groups. Amy and Danny headed over to KJs. They staked points and are now ready for seedling refinds sometime next week. Ali, Katherine and I harvested Q3 heads. We got 40 in all! It sprinkled a little this morning, so the heads were a little damp. We set up a drying station for them.

Ali and Katherine with the beautiful Q3 heads!

Ali and Katherine with the beautiful Q3 heads!



Lots of colors!

Lots of colors!

After everyone finished up that, Stuart taught Ali and Katherine how to dissect the harvested heads.



Stuart demonstrates proper dissection methods.

Stuart demonstrates proper dissection methods.

Ali and Katherine practice dissection while Danny does absolutely nothing productive.

Ali and Katherine practice dissection while Danny does absolutely nothing productive.

It sprinkled a little after lunch, so we waited until about 2:00 to head out to P2 to harvest. Although we started a little later than we would have liked, we still finished up in about 2 hours! A lot faster than yesterdays P1 harvest!

To celebrate a week full of hard work and fun, we had root beer floats! Unfortunately, today was my last day with Team Echinacea. I start my senior year at West Central Area High School on Tuesday. I had a great summer and I learned so much! 🙂

Winding down of Summer- August 3

Today was one of the first days where the end of summer felt notably, and sadly very near. A big contributer to this feeling was that we finished doing phenology at all of the sites (p1 and p2 included!) before lunch. Several of the sites including East of Town Hall, KJs and North of Golf Course, are finished flowering all together! While Riley’s used to take many hours, it only took me and Will a few minutes to finish up phenology there this morning. At lunch  Will taught us a puzzle/riddle which while difficult to explain in a flog post, elicited many laughs and caused hats to be thrown in frustration across the picnic table of the Hjelm house. After lunch, the most of crew went to p1 to continue working on crosses for the Q3 experiment. Many of those are done now too, and we have seen a lot of style shriveling hopefully indicating compatible pollen addition and a successful cross between flowers! Tonight we have a special guest appearance from Erica, Lea’s sister! While we’re all excited that she’s here, it’s bittersweet because it means that Lea is leaving tomorrow morning 🙁 We’re all feeling a little snuffly about Lea’s departure, but excited to stay in touch with all members of the 2015 Echinacea team.